Intrinsic motivation, a killer input


Earlier this evening I came across an intriguing interview with racer, metal sculptor, designer, and archmaster of doing Shinya Kimura.  Here's an excerpt, with Kimura's thoughts italicized:

What were your early influences? 

The shapes and designs of Italian sports car like Lamborghini Miura and bugs.

Have you ever had another job? 


What are your favourite and least favourite parts of a bike build? 

I love to see the hazy idea of mine actually becomes materialized, that is the most favourite part of a bike build. Least favourite part is…polishing!

What are his hopes for himself and Chabott? 

Keep creating whatever I like.

What are his regrets?  

No regrets at all!!

Will he always be a bike builder or is there something else on the horizon? 

I don't categorize myself as a bike builder but I will keep building bikes and creating whatever I have in my mind as long as I live.

This morning I attended a demonstration of a cool new service, and got to meet one of the women behind its creation.  It turns out that this new business was launched as part of a Stanford class last Spring, for which I was a judge.  But I didn't know about this service until today.  Why?  Well, in part because at the big demo fair they held as part of this class, where each of the student teams demoed their ideas, I spent too much of my allocated judging time talking with one team, who were unfortunate in that they had a team member who couldn't get out of what I would call "heavy sales" mode.  By that I mean, no matter what questions I asked about things like point of view, first-hand experience of the world, prototyping — all the stuff you care about when engaging in the art and science of bringing cool stuff to life — he kept on patronizing me with the party line, the premeditated marketing messages they had whipped up beforehand.  In other words, he was laying some heavy bullshit on me.  Bummer.

And you know what?  Bullshit is bullshit.  Bullshitters don't ship, and they can't attract intrinsically motivated people to be on their teams in any sustainable, long-term way.  Why?  Because we all want to be around people with that gleam in their eyes which says "this is going to happen".  Life is too short to waste your time working with people who are motivated by extrinsic factors, such as money, status, or grades.  It's the intrinsically motivated folks who sweat the small stuff, grok the big picture, and — dare I say it — think different.

When I look at the interview transcript above, I see someone who would be hacking on bikes even if there was no money in it.  Kimura's voice is that of a person who has pledged their life toward a specific passion.  A person who comes up with solutions in his dreams.  Who takes their inner desires seriously enough to try and make them reality, rather than repressing them in the name of what the outside world wants them to be.  When I interview folks to be part of the team at my employer IDEO, I'm always looking for the sparks of passion which are the mark of someone powered from within.  They are easy to see when they're there, and they are equally easy to smell when they is fake.  In my experience, having that intrinsic motivation makes all the difference in the end result.  Not only is it impossible to fake, but if you try to fake it, you will always sound like a bullshitter, which completely torpedoes the basis of everything you're trying to claim in the first place.

This is all a roundabout way of saying that intrinsic motivation is, in my opinion, a killer input.  Meaning that it is one of several key factors which define a space within which talented people can collaborate with other similarly aligned people to make magic happen.  I've said previously that trust is a killer app, but it's not an application, it's an input, just like intrinsic motivation.  The output is wonderfulness. 

And there are more; this is a subject worthy of more study.



photo credit: Chabott Engineering

1 thought on “Intrinsic motivation, a killer input

  1. Absolutely worthy of more study. Everyone should understand this.
    It’s possible we’ve all been told, at some point in our lives, not to chase the paycheck – to do what we love instead – and the money will follow. While I know this to be true (now), it’s an oversimplification.
    Coming from a gearhead perspective, it seemed like the only real opportunities for me in that realm were selling cars or fixing them for irresponsible owners. Since neither of these appealed to me, and nothing else I could think of seemed capable of keeping a roof over my head whilst starting out, I shelved my dreams and joined the rat race.
    Instead of telling people to do what they love and the money will follow, we need to be telling everyone to explore and understand their passions.
    – Why does doing this mean so much to me?
    – Why do I do this for free?
    Only I can qualify my own intrinsic motivators. Once I realized I more enjoy modifying car culture than the cars themselves a lot of things became clear. I could draw parallel lines.
    Intrinsic motivation, then, is a sense of direction. It’s Polaris. It is the difference between work-life balance, where survival and living are pitted against one another in a sadistic balancing act, and work-life PARALLEL, where the gearhead who enjoys modifying car culture discovers he also enjoys modifying corporate culture.
    That gleam in the eye of “this is going to happen?” That’s just a hint at the fire burning in the belly. We walk established paths when we need to, but only insofar as they make travel in our chosen directions easier.
    Great post. Cheers to you, mate.

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